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PL Sunday preview: Chelsea-Man United & Man City-Arsenal

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If the Premier League must pause during this week’s international window, Sunday’s slate of fixtures, featuring every last one of the first- through fifth-place sides, sure is one heck of a way to head into the break…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Liverpool thrash West Ham; Burnley top-six contenders? ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Crystal Palace — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The toast of Europe this week, Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham must quickly divert its attention from beating Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday to avoiding a colossal slip-up against last-place Palace on Sunday. Spurs will surely find motivation in righting a perceived wrong — last weekend’s late defeat away to Manchester United — as they bid for a third straight PL title challenge this season. The gap between themselves and leaders Manchester City is presently eight points, but a friendly favor from their north London rivals on Sunday could see that number shrink to five.

With Harry Kane back from  last week’s hamstring “injury,” Spurs’ fitness issues now exist almost solely in their defensive half: Toby Aldeweireld left the win over Madrid with a hamstring strain of his own (expected to miss three to four weeks); Hugo Lloris was visibly ailed by a groin injury (two weeks); and Victor Wanyama remains unavailable with a knee injury. With Eric Dier expected to again drop into the backline alongside Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, Harry Winks‘ coming-out party will likely be given another chapter against an impotent Palace side which has scored only four goals all season, and has scored in just two of their 10 games thus far.

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Toby Aldeweireld (hamstring), Hugo Lloris (groin), Victor Wanyama (knee), Erik Lamela (hip) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Connor Wickham (knee); RETURNING: Mamadou Sakho (calf)


Manchester City vs. Arsenal — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The last remaining unbeaten side in the PL, Pep Guardiola‘s Man City, welcomes Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal — the only manager and club to complete an unbeaten season in the PL era — to the Etihad Stadium. Having already knocked off two of their presumed title contenders (Liverpool, 5-0; Chelsea, 1-0), City aim to make it a third and extend their winning run to nine games. A 4-2 victory over Napoli, Serie A’s lone remaining unbeaten side, has City full of form and confidence. As for the prospects of chasing the unbeaten season, Guardiola is having none of it.

“I would like to say to Arsene that this record belongs to him; we are not going to break it,” he said. “He has to be calm and sure that is not going to happen. It belongs to his team, an exceptional team, because to go through the Premier League unbeaten is something fantastic. It belongs to him. He has to know that we don’t want to break this record. We want to play well and beat him on Sunday. That is what we want to do.”

Similarly, the Gunners are in the best form they’ve achieved all season, having won four of their last five after a tumultuous start (two losses from their first three games). City, though, are a beast of a much higher order, and it’s the task of Wenger’s men to curtail a side which has scored 30 goals in its last seven league games. One might assume Wenger will adopt a defensive approach on Sunday, though the legendary boss told the assembled media on Friday that “the best way to defend sometimes is to attack.”

There will be goals if that’s how Arsenal approach this game.

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Vincent Kompany (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Danny Welbeck (hamstring), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles); PROBABLE: Sead Kolasinac (hip)


Chelsea vs. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Here are some little-known facts that’ll likely gain some traction over the next 24 hours: Jose Mourinho, who’s now the manager at Man United, used to be the boss at Chelsea; he was succeeded by Antonio Conte, who won the PL title in his first season at Stamford Bridge; Mourinho, despite employment elsewhere, still appears transfixed by Conte’s threat to his own legacy; the two have engage one another in a war of words (and attempted hand-to-hand combat) in the past. You will almost certainly be reminded of this on Sunday, and probably a few further more days.

Chelsea are reeling ahead of Sunday’s clash after their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday. This is, by Conte’s lofty standards, the lowest point of his Chelsea tenure — coincidentally, Mourinho knows all too well Chelsea’s post-title struggles. After losing back-to-back games to Man City and Palace last month, the Blues currently sit nine points adrift of the PL leaders and find themselves still with plenty of work to do in Europe. Even their most recent win — last weekend’s 1-0 triumph over then-19th-place Bournemouth — highlighted the lack of attacking cohesion for the side with the lowest goals output (18 in 10 games) from any of the league’s top-six sides.

Meanwhile, United are slightly more confident, thanks to a 2-0 victory over Benfica during the week and a smashed-and-grabbed three points against Spurs last weekend. Mourinho, for his part, is trying to downplay the importance of his return.

“It isn’t a big thing,” he said this week. “It is normal, it is football, it is professionalism, it is football life. It’s a big thing because it’s a big match, because it’s a big opponent. They are the champions, because it’s one of these matches between the top teams in the country, but by the emotional point of view it’s just one more game.

“I played there with Inter and twice with Manchester United. I have to admit it’s a little bit different, but in the end, I want to win, like I did with Inter, and they want to win like they did last season. In four or five more years nobody will probably remember that I was Chelsea manager.”

In truth, nothing would upset him more than everyone forgetting he was once the Chelsea manager.

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Victor Moses (hamstring); RETURNING: N'Golo Kante (hamstring) | Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Michael Carrick (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (back)


Everton vs. Watford — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

While plenty has been said of Everton’s early-season struggles — and the firing of Ronald Koeman — not nearly enough attention has been paid to Watford and their new manager, Marco Silva. Three points against the 19th-place Toffees would see the Hornets rise up to eighth in the PL table, as few as one or two points behind the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom are currently level for fourth with 19 points. Like Conte and Chelsea, Silva and Watford find themselves wading through their first turbulent period together, having lost back-to-back games for the first time (Chelsea, 2-4; Stoke, 0-1). Silva knows his side must bounce back against Everton.

“I think we didn’t play well in the first-half,” Silva said of the loss to Stoke. “We gave our opponents the advantage for 45 minutes, we gave them a big lift in the goal we conceded. We made a mistake, we gave them a gift. We lost our focus in that moment and they scored a good goal. Everything was too slow and we knew they would come here with 10 men behind the ball and wait for our mistake. We needed to play faster and with more intensity.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); RETURNING: Micheal Keane (foot) | Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastien Prodl (hamstring), Craig Cathcart (knee), Isaac Success (knee), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring)

Jozy Altidore calls out Toronto FC president Bill Manning in scathing postgame comments

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It was supposed to be a happy postgame. Toronto FC topped Minnesota United 4-3 in a wild game that saw Jozy Altidore assist the game-winning goal scored 79th minute, pushing them within a point of the Eastern Conference lead with a game in hand.

For Altidore, though, it was the perfect opportunity to air some dirty laundry.

The United States international seeked out reporters in the mixed zone after the game and told the public how unhappy he was at certain decisions made at the club this offseason, particularly regarding the training staff. Altidore singled out team president Bill Manning and criticized the club executive for firing someone he believed was helping the striker off the field.

[ MORE: Toronto FC tops Minnesota United 4-3 ]

“It’s bittersweet because this could’ve been avoided,” Altidore said of the firing of Italian trainer Giuseppe Gueli who was let go after the sale of Sebastian Giovinco this offseason. “You’ll have to ask Bill Manning why it’s not avoided, it’s just disappointing. We had a trainer here the last three years who’s been helping me with muscle injuries, but because he was attached to Seba, he’s not allowed in the club, which I think is ridiculous. And so now this is what I’m faced with, games of egos, and that thing. Hopefully he can put his ego aside and I can get the guy who’s kept me healthy, kept Michael [Bradley] healthy, kept a bunch of the guys healthy, and we can make things move forward.”

“To run a club you’ve got to be able to put your ego aside and put the players first, so hopefully that’ll change,” Altidore said. “I was trying to get through it, I was having trouble all week, but again, like I said, the person I was working with the past three and a half, four years, is not allowed in the building, and it’s just— you give everything for your city, you give everything on the field, you give everything for your teammates, and because of a little whatever, misunderstanding with a guy, the players gotta pay the price. I just think that’s ridiculous.”

Altidore then went after Manning for his lack of accessibility for the players, as Altidore insinuated he made attempts to handle the issue internally but was unable to do so. “You can ask him,” Altidore said when asked if he received an explanation from Manning on the personnel decision. “He’s not here, he’s not around, so you can’t find him. You go to his office, he’s not there, he’s traveling, he’s this and that. I wish I knew, but I don’t know.”

As far as the public has been aware, Altidore and Manning have had a decent working relationship. Local media reported that a sit-down between the two in February helped push through a new contract for Altidore after talks had hit the skids. “I saw the hunger in his eyes and how much he loved it here,” Manning said of Altidore once the contract extension was announced. “And he was willing to work with us. And once we kind of talked that through, we were able to create a contract that made sense for us and made sense for him.”

After Altidore brought Michael Bradley into the mix by mentioning the Toronto FC captain by name, Bradley was asked about the situation, and he confirmed there were internal issues that needed to be taken care of but downplayed the severity of the issue. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in terms of trying to make sure that we can have the right medical staff in place,” Bradley said, “and obviously Greg [Vanney], Jim Liston, Ali [Curtis], Bill [Manning], they’re all working hard to try to make sure that as players we have everything we need. Jozy is a guy who feels like at this point in his career he knows exactly what he needs to do day in and day out to keep himself healthy and fit and ready to play at the highest level. I’m hopeful there’s a solution here because I think a lot of us certainly feel strongly, again making sure that the staff behind the scenes is in place and is right.”

Obviously, this seems like – at its base level – a minor problem not to be aired in public, but Altidore is someone who has suffered from numerous muscle problems in the past, and if he is nervous about not receiving the proper medical attention off the field, it could be affecting his mindset or performance. Players who are tentative on the field because of past medical issues can either lose form or actually exacerbate the issue further, so it would be in Toronto’s best interest to cater to Altidore’s requests. At the very least, if a veteran leader is frustrated by a lack of communication from the front office, that in and of itself is a concern the club will want to address as soon as possible.

Toronto FC pulls within a point of East lead with win over Minnesota

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Toronto FC snatched all three points in a wild finish at BMO Field, taking the spoils 4-3 over Minnesota United thanks to a pair of goals each from Alejandro Pozuelo and Jordan Hamilton.

Minnesota struck first through Darwin Quintero in the 17th minute, but Toronto swung back in front on a quickfire double from Pozuelo, striking twice in two minutes right on the half-hour mark. His first was a beauty, carrying the ball all the way down the attacking half himself before a couple stepovers preempted a rifle into the top corner.

Two minutes later he found space in the box, and taking a feed from Justin Morrow, he powered the ball home above Vito Mannone. With that, Toronto went into the halftime break with the lead, and Pozuelo grabbed a club record for fastest brace with just 110 seconds between goals.

Out of the break, it was Minnesota’s turn to swing back into the lead as Angelo Rodriguez bagged a header to the far post as two Toronto defenders misjudged a cross from Romain Metanire. Quintero then hit for the second time in the 70th minute, this time from the spot after Chris Mavinga fouled Rodriguez in the area.

With wild status officially achieved and Minnesota ahead, Toronto snagged control of the match in front of the home fans. Hamilton, who came on in the 73rd minute, had an instant impact, scoring the equalizer just four minutes after entering play. Jonathan Osorio fed him a perfect through-ball between defenders, and Hamilton finished expertly with a chip over a charging Mannone. Hamilton gave Toronto the lead in the 79th minute, although this time the Minnesota defense will want to burn the tape. Jozy Altidore popped the ball over a defender right in front of the goal mouth, and while Michael Boxall had position to clear the ball off the line, Hamilton jumped it and tipped it into the back of the net.

After that, Minnesota melted down. Jan Gregus was shown a straight red card in the 89th minute, and Minnesota was reduced to nine men minutes later after Francisco Calvo earned his second yellow card. The win sent Toronto to second in the Eastern Conference on 13 points, one behind D.C. United for the lead with a game in hand.

Premier League preview: Newcastle v. Southampton

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  • Southampton have won 3 of their last 4 PL games
  • Newcastle has beaten Southampton just once in last 9 meetings
  • Shane Long has scored in his last 2 matches – has never scored in 3

Both Newcastle and Southampton have the chance to all but secure Premier League safety with a win on Saturday as the Saints travel to St. James Park, live on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE HERE

Southampton has turned a corner under Ralph Hassenhuttl, with eight wins in his first 18 games in charge – as many as the previous two managers put together in 52 league matches. The Saints now sit five points above the relegation zone, and with Cardiff City taking on Liverpool on Sunday, the time is ripe for Southampton to pull away. A victory over Newcastle and a Cardiff City loss would put the Saints eight points clear of the drop, leaving their magic point total for safety at just one over the last three matches.

Hassenhuttl could be without regular defender Jannik Vestergaard who has a groin injury, but otherwise the injury news is light. Midfielder Mario Lemina may not be ready to go from his abdominal injury, having missed all of 2019 so far, but the other injured players in Alex McCarthy, Matt Targett and Charlie Austin are all reportedly ready to go.

Newcastle, on the other hand, can mathematically secure its safety with a win and a Liverpool result, and even a draw will put the hosts in a fantastic position. Sitting two points above Southampton and seven above the drop, there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding manager Rafa Benitez, but they look set to earn Premier League play next season. The Magpies saw their three-match winless run come to an end last time out with a win over Leicester City, but still they have limped down the stretch with just seven points in six Premier League matches since the beginning of March. They too have good injury news, with just the long-term injuries to Florian Lejune and Sean Longstaff the only players struggling coming into the match.

What they’re saying

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on Newcastle’s relegation battle: “I said 38 points [would be enough] a long time ago. Cardiff have won a couple of games [since then], and now it’s even more important for us to win another game, be sure everything is fine and then we can start thinking about how high we can go.”

Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhuttl on Southampton’s relegation battle: “We have been speaking about the 40 points and therefore we need four more. The good thing is I don’t have the feeling my team is leaning back, they stay focused. Although it is a long season so far, I have a feeling they are very hungry, they want to hunt and take more points. That is a good signal for me.”

Prediction

Home field advantage is massive in these games, and Newcastle will relish having the backing of the home fans. Southampton, however, comes into this game in better form, and will be more motivated to earn points to build the gap. The Saints should come away with a 2-0 win in an exciting game between two scrappy teams.

Premier League preview: West Ham v. Leicester City

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  • Leicester City has lost just once in its last 9 meetings with West Ham
  • West Ham has just 5 PL clean sheets this season
  • Leicester City has not won 3 straight road matches since April 2016

Leicester City continues its push for a place in Europe as the Foxes travel to London to take on West Ham United live at 10:00 a.m. ET on CNBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE HERE

The Foxes sit in seventh place in the Premier League table, and while they’re unable to catch Manchester United in sixth sitting 17 points back, they still have a crack at a place in the Europa League should Watford fail to win the FA Cup. It’s a hotly contested race, with Wolverhampton Wanderers level on points with Leicester at 47, while Everton and Watford are both a point back with 46.

As a boost, Leicester City could have Marc Albrighton back from a long-term hamstring injury that has kept him out for two months, although it’s unlikely he would start right away after being out for so long. The 29-year-old was a regular in the Leicester lineup before his injury, appearing in all but two of the club’s Premier League matches until his injury in early February.

For the Hammers, they sit in 11th position and have work to do to reach the top half of the table, behind Watford and Everton by four points. Jack Wilshere could find his way back from an ankle injury, although the club is reportedly being careful with his return. They are missing a trio of important attacking players, with Manuel Lanzini, Javier Hernandez, and Samir Nasri all likely out with injury problems.

What they’re saying

West Ham manager on his season to this point: “It’s not an easy answer because there are two sides to it. Yes, I’m happy because it is a solid season compared to the last one. Having so many important players injured for so long is not easy. But always I feel we can do better.”

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers on a possible European place: “We’re not really thinking about that. We want to finish as high as we can and do our very best. It’s important we continue to work and prepare for next season while finishing as strongly as possible.”

Prediction

Leicester City has fared well against West Ham in the past, and while this is a road trip for the Foxes, it has far more importance to the visitors than the home side, who have already pretty much packed up shop for the season. With Leicester City needing this match much more, and West Ham missing a number of attacking players, the Foxes should come away with it 2-1, returning home with a vital three points away from home.